July 23, 2005
Dawn: "Um, guys -- hello, puberty? Sort of figured out the whole no-Santa thing."
Anya: "That's a myth."
Anya: "No, I mean, it's a myth that it's a myth. There is a Santa Claus."
Xander: "The advantage of having a thousand-year-old girlfriend. Inside scoop."
Tara: "There's a Santa Claus?"
Anya: "Mm-hmm. Been around since, like, the 1500s. But he wasn't always called Santa. But with, you know, Christmas night, flying reindeer, coming down the chimney -- all true."
Dawn [beaming]: "All true?"
Anya: "Well, he doesn't traditionally bring presents so much as, you know, disembowel children. But otherwise ..."
Willow: "The reindeer part was nice."
Whedon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer ("The Body")
In the presence of one currently reading and two who had not yet started, one person revealed the major spoiler of the latest Harry Potter book: coldly, matter-of-factly, with deliberation and full awareness of what was being done. I understood at that moment that I had just witnessed one of the more psychologically vicious things I had ever seen.
It did not affect me personally. I have far too long a history of reading the book two years after everyone else and seeing the film only after that (I have only just finished reading The Da Vinci code, given last year to me by someone who knows me well); and in any case I have never found the sole value of a narrative to lie in its ability to surprise me: or at least, if that does happen to be its only value, I cannot see that the narrative would have much staying power, much life-depth to grant insight and make us think and re-think.
It does not matter whether an action undertaken in my presence affects me only; whether an action undercuts only what I value. I have hurt people before, often, sometimes even with the awareness that I was doing so -- but never simply for the sake of tearing from them what was seen by them as valuable. Except where I felt it was necessary, I have stepped cautiously around boundaries, avoided topics, dodged the questions I knew would give the unsought, unwanted answers.
(It has been my experience that when my "honest" opinion is asked, in most cases what is really sought is a confirmation/acceptance/affirmation of what the other person already thinks: that I "honestly" limit my own thinking to what the other person finds acceptable and safe. The one talent I have in over-abundance is that of independent thought. Many people claim to praise it; praise that has on occasion shifted rather rapidly to abuse the moment that the other person realises that I "independently" don't always completely and in every particular agree with them ... which frequently in the other's perception seems to hold the same place as an outright rejection. On occasion, even re-wording the question so as to balance out its implicit assumptions is equally seen as rejection. Apparently, we are utterly free to think independently ... just so long as we "independently" come to the right conclusion. But I think I am probably repeating myself from an earlier entry: at least, this direction feels familiar.)
Short form: what I try not to do, never to do, is to rip out a focused ignorance/innocence unless:
- the person themself wishes it, or
- the by-products of their ignorance/innocence are harming others.
(Could Whedon have possibly chosen a harsher example -- not loss of innocence, but utter destruction, ripping out, of innocence -- to segue his dissection of family death? The newly minted teenager has accepted that the trappings of childhood are to be left behind, painful but so be it: there can remain a smile of nostalgia, remembering. That loss is an accepted aspect of growing up, a rite of passage. But Anya actually briefly restores the original belief, thoughtlessly holding out the bright blossom of the classic image of childhood innocence -- maybe even thinking she was doing something nice for Dawn? -- before turning it into a child-specific Venus fly trap. Building on this foundation, Whedon again and again echoes these same patterns of ripping apart the "what-ifs" -- what if Buffy had come home just a little earlier? what if she had remembered how to perform accurate CPR? the thousand and one "if only's" that just won't stop rattling through one's head -- through the rest of what is certainly one of the best episodes he has ever created: and always, always reducing them to that same, harsh reality. No one, nothing, is to blame. It does not matter that "she was nice", or deeply, desperately loved and needed: Joyce Summers is dead. That is just the way it is.)
All other things being equal, I will hope that the intent does make a difference ... at least where one tries to learn from the experience.